The grand designs which turned out to be impossible dreams
PUBLISHED: 21:38 30 July 2016 | UPDATED: 21:38 30 July 2016
Archant Norfolk © 2016
Dream the impossible dream, urged the hit song from the 1972 musical Man of La Mancha, a theme adopted by many an entrepreneur and developer as they devised the kind of grandiose projects mentioned in these weekly jottings recently.
At first glance, some looked exciting and attractive, just the sort of fillip that a forward thinking major holiday resort might welcome to give it an edge over its competitors and help to draw in the visitors. But on closer examination, they proved to be impractical, outrageously expensive and, well, an impossible dream.
Those included the extensive multi-million £ Breydon Lagoona, providing a comprehensive range of sporting, recreational, cultural and retail facilities for locals and holidaymakers; a £25 million new broad capable of hosting Olympic sailing events; an elevated monorail from North Denes to Harbour’s Mouth; cable car, tramway...
A common denominator was the necessity for professionals to convert ideas into working drawings, complete with dimensions, so they could be examined, assessed and costed – however unlikely it was that they could become a reality.
Those professionals used their expertise to transform ideas into an impression of what they would look like if everything came to fruition. Of course, sometimes they were designing prosaic buildings more likely to be erected – for example, homes, shops and other commercial premises, civic property, hospitals, schools…
The two sides, the fanciful and the probable, are brought together here today, thanks to reader Len Medler because my previous feature reminded him that at his home in Clover Way, Bradwell, were some large impressions of possible civic developments envisaged by our borough council in the postwar era.
They were the work of an uncle through marriage, the late John Burgess, a local man Len first met in the 1980s.
“He was involved in a lot of projects,” I am told by 72-year-old Yarmouth-born Len. John was a member of the Society of Architectural and Associated Technicians, according to a 1966 certificate.
“He did work for Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Lacon’s Brewery, for example, and also was head-hunted to go to Watford to do work for Benskin’s Brewery, later returning here.”
I am unsure what to call John Burgess without upsetting his professional contemporaries: was he an architect, draughtsman, designer? Freelance or salaried?
First, let us examine a project that he assuredly did not design, for it has been a feature of Yarmouth for generations.
Presumably three centuries and more ago, some professional like him settled in front of a drawing board and produced a plan of a proposed building – the Fishermen’s Hospital in the heart of Yarmouth, erected in 1702 as a charitable gesture by the local council to provide cosy and comfortable homes for elderly fishermen and their wives who had fallen on hard times.
The mini-complex, set behind an attractive cobbled courtyard, could accommodate 20 couples, each of whom had a comfortable living room and one bedroom above,
In 1940, John Burgess produced a meticulous pen-and-ink drawing of the façade of the attractive building that includes the original name-plate above the main entrance door (“An hospital for Decayed Fishermen founded by the Corporation 1702”) and an incorporated picture of a vessel in full sail.
Also shown is the statue of St Peter, the patron saint of fisherfolk, in a domed pillared cupola on the roof. Above the cupola’s curved top is a spike for a weather vane - a fishing lugger in sail.
As a layman, I was impressed by the attention to detail, for every horizontal and vertical line of mortar between the bricks, the latticed windows and all the roof slates, were faithfully drawn.
What inspired him to do it? Simple: it was part of his entry for the Royal Institute of British Architects intermediate examination in 1940.
Another large example of his work was an eye-opener; an undated but probably postwar 41in by 25in colour impression of a “Proposed memorial hall, central library and art gallery”…in St George’s Park!
Never before have I come across this suggested development in our principal park. There has been no memorial hall, and the central library opened in 1961 on its present site near the Tolhouse, having been bombed out of its old building.
What struck me as significant was that the plan stated that it was “proposed,” indicating that it was not just a kite-flying exercise but was serious. I suppose the development, which incorporated a clock-tower, would have occupied the park from the two war memorials right down to Nelson Road Central, robbing the town centre of its only green space.
Rather like the Breydon Lagoona, monorail and other flights of fancy, it never received borough council approval, assuming that it progressed beyond the drawing board.
Many townsfolk continue to be concerned about the deteriorating once-magnificent Winter Gardens on the Wellington Pier, imported from Torquay in 1904 and put to a variety of uses, from exhibitions and political rallies to roller-skating and dances, including transformation into a Tyrolean Biergarten. At the seaward end of the pier stands the pavilion theatre, perhaps nowadays little used. Holidaymakers’ wants and tastes change.
The necessity to cater for trends and to adapt to satisfy these changing postwar whims might have been the catalyst seven decades ago when John Burgess drew a plan for a very modernistic addition to the Wellington Pier’s attractions. The basic new provision envisaged a 120ft long glazed lounge bar on the wooden decking, but the eye-catching feature was a 32ft slender tapering tower above it.
At first glance, the plan gave me the impression of a modern luxury liner.
Why it failed to materialise I cannot say. Perhaps cost. Perhaps because it was a culture shock cheek-by-jowl with the elegant Victorian Winter Gardens. It might also have taken up the space where a few years later an outdoor roller-skating rink was laid down, the weekly shows by the Yarmouth club members (who used the Winter Gardens off-season) attracting enthusiastic and admiring crowds.
Two of the blueprints were for schools: a secondary modern for girls on Beccles Road in Gorleston in 1950 (the long-demolished Claydon?) and an infants’ school on the Magdalen College Estate (the Herman?) that same year.
In 1946 John Burgess painted a proposed shelter and public conveniences on the Shrublands Estate children’s playground. I am unsure if it progressed in that form.
John Burgess, who lived in Lowestoft in later life, died four years ago.